Sid Vicious had a troubled and difficult childhood. While attending the Kingsway College, a school for difficult and previously expelled youth, a counselor singled him out for one-on-one sessions after he heard Vicious talking about suicide. The counselor asked Vicious to bring a friend for support, and he brought friend John Wardle, better known now as Jah Wobble of Public Image Ltd., along with to the session.
The counselor told Wardle that Vicious seemed to be considering suicide. Wardle, assuming it was a joke, replied that “Sid might as well end it all.” To his surprise and horror, Vicious nodded seriously in response. Wardle later reflected that he and Vicious both thought the counseling session would be a laugh, but he left realizing that Vicious had a dark and deeply broken side of him.
Wardle later commented, after Vicious’ death, that his home life was basically a “black hole” due to his mother’s lifestyle of drug abuse. She wasn’t involved in his life, and he had no role models or supervision. He realized, later in life, that Vicious was deeply damaged and sad with no one willing to help him. This revelation lends a rather tragic tone to Vicious’ antics.
7. Vicious Swung His Bass Better Than He Played It
Outside of his theatrics and over-the-top lifestyle, Sid Vicious was also known for being utterly incapable of playing his bass. Rock and punk greats like Lenny Kilmister of Motorhead and his bandmates in the Sex Pistols reportedly attempted to teach Vicious to play but found him uninterested and inattentive. However, despite not knowing how to play the bass, he most certainly knew how to swing it – especially at people.
Continuing Vicious’ legacy of bad behavior in Texas on the Sex Pistols’ American tour, he was egged on to violence by a rancher. Brian Faltin, a member of a prominent Texas ranching family, attended a show in San Antonio intending to start a fight with the band, who he referred to as “sewer rats with guitars.” Faltin first attempted to pick a fight with Johnny Rotten but found him unresponsive.
Faltin then turned his attention to Vicious, who could never be called unresponsive. After throwing his own bloody bandage, applied to self-mutilation earlier in the evening, into the crowd Vicious erupted into a fit of rage at Faltin and swung his 10-pound bass guitar directly at Faltin. Luckily, Vicious missed Faltin and only grazed a nearby roadie who was attempting to hold back the worked-up crowd.
In one of the more horrifying chapters of Sid Vicious’ troubled life, he tortured and killed a cat in front of friends. A friend who ran with the Sex Pistols crew from before they formed the band throughout its success, Mark Helfond witnessed the incident and, in later years, said he wished he could go back in time and stop the situation.
After Vicious was kicked out of his home, he and John Lydon, later known as Johnny Rotten, lived in squat flats where Vicious would find and strangle cats; not to mention, self-mutilate with aluminum can lids. In one case, Helfond witnessed Vicious killing a cat. He wrapped a belt around the poor creature’s neck and held it there while the cat struggled and slowly suffocated to death.
Lydon’s father also witnessed some of these incidents and stated he felt they were due to Vicious’ insatiable need for attention, which was never met by his drug addict mother. He said of Vicious, “If he was sitting here and no one was taking any notice of him, he’d cut his hand or something to attract attention. You’d have to take your mind off everything else and look at him.” One feels for Vicious and the abuse he must have suffered as a child, but his torture and murder of animals are truly horrifying.
In addition to harming animals, it is reported that Sid Vicious abused humans as well. Vicious was famous for his tumultuous, co-dependent and drug-addled relationship with Nancy Spungen in addition to his role in the Sex Pistols. Spungen was a broken and troubled person, like Vicious. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15 and was expelled from school, also like Vicious.
After arriving in London, the American Spungen became involved in the same punk circles as Vicious and eventually began dating him. The two reportedly had an extremely unhealthy relationship in which she would lash out at him verbally if he came to see her without drugs. She would continue to verbally abuse him until he would lose his temper and respond with physical violence.
In the last phone call to her mother before her death, Spungen admitted that she had been seriously injured in fights with Vicious, including a broken nose and torn ear. She claimed that the frequent beatings had stopped for a time, but picked back up when Vicious became depressed due to not being able to find work after the Sex Pistols broke up. It is unsurprising, given these admissions, that Vicious was a suspect in her untimely stabbing death shortly after the phone call.
Sid Vicious’ viciousness was not only reserved for himself. While he engaged in frequent self-mutilation, Vicious was also capable of significant violence towards animals and people. This tendency made a notable appearance during a show on the Sex Pistols’ infamous North American tour. At a stop in Nashville, Vicious brutally assaulted a reporter with a bicycle chain.
The Sex Pistols, as was typical with punk musicians, had a fractious relationship with the press and music critics. This behavior was unusually severe with Nick Kent, a reporter for the New Musical Express who was also a former Sex Pistol. He had briefly played guitar with the band and rehearsed with Johnny Rotten and claimed he was the superior singer. Kent often badmouthed Rotten in the press due to this disagreement.
At the 100 Club in Nashville, Kent reportedly tapped Vicious on the shoulder and told him to move over so Kent could get a better view. Vicious is said to have responded with a comment on how he didn’t like Kent’s trousers and grabbed a bicycle chain out of his pocket, which he hit Kent over the head with three times. Blood was reportedly splattered all over the wall behind Kent who, in true punk fashion, stated it didn’t hurt and refused to seek medical attention.
11. Vicious Cost the Sex Pistols Their Recording Contract
Even in the punk scene, a violent drug-addicted bassist who can’t play his instrument isn’t great for business. Record labels and the music industry as a whole were fully aware of Sid Vicious’ erratic and often violent behavior including domestic violence, vandalism, rampant drug abuse, and self-mutilation. The final straw for EMI, the Sex Pistols’ label, came at Heathrow Airport in 1977.
In 1977, the band had a massive brawl in the middle of Heathrow Airport with the members yelling at airport staff and spitting on each other. Even for a punk band, this wasn’t acceptable public conduct, especially outside of a show, and the group was unceremoniously dropped from EMI’s roster. A&M’s label decided to take a chance on the band and signed them immediately after EMI’s dismissal.
A&M celebrated the signing by holding a press conference outside Buckingham Palace and then inviting the band, press, and more to a party at A&M’s office. During the party, Vicious became unruly and vandalized the director of A&M’s office and vomited all over his desk. A&M dropped the Sex Pistols from their label only six days after signing them. This event serves as an excellent reminder to not bite the hand that feeds you, despite how punk it may seem at the time.
12. Vicious Wrote An Ode to His Girlfriend Before Her Death
While Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen had a complicated, drug-focused and often violent relationship, there is little doubt that they loved each other. Despite the frequent beatings that left Spungen with a broken nose and torn ear, among other injuries and the verbal abuse that likely profoundly hurt the victim of child abuse in Vicious, he penned a loving tribute to Spungen in the days leading up to her death.
In 1978, only months before her untimely and unsolved death by an abdominal stab wound, Vicious wrote a list of things he loved about Spungen on a piece of tattered notebook paper. In a charming touch, he numbered the items and underlined the title as though he were writing an English composition for school.
In the list, Vicious praised her beauty, figure, sense of humor, wit, eyes and fashion sense along with raunchier items that will remain unmentioned. While their relationship was profoundly unhealthy and Vicious doubtlessly committed a great deal of domestic violence, there was a core of love somewhere in the union, even if buried deep. The abused, battered heart of a person still capable of love inside Vicious made a brief appearance in the lines of that tattered note.
13. Vicious Found His Girlfriend’s Body and May Have Killed Her
On October 12, 1978, Sid Vicious awoke to a trail of blood in his hotel room at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. He followed the path into the bathroom only to find his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, dead of a single stab wound to the abdomen. After calling the front desk to report her death, Vicious was found wandering the halls of the hotel crying and saying “I killed her… I can’t live without her… She must have fallen on the knife.”
Vicious was arrested for the murder but plead not guilty. Many close to Vicious believed, despite the domestic abuse, that he would not have been capable of killing Spungen due to his love for her. This concept was likely complicated by many of Vicious’ friends blaming Spungen for being a bad influence on Vicious and increasing his drug use.
Vicious was never convicted of her murder, and the case was closed when he died of a heroin overdose only months later. Her death has never indeed been solved, with theories ranging from a suicide pact to being murdered by one of the many drug dealers who came and went out of their hotel. Over $1,000 was stolen out of their room the night Spungen was murdered, which does lend some credence to the idea it was a robbery gone wrong.
14. Vicious Smashed a Bottle On Someone’s Face After His Girlfriend’s Death
In a rather callous incident, Sid Vicious smashed a glass bottle over someone’s face while attempting to flirt with their girlfriend while out on bail for the murder of his own dead girlfriend. Only weeks after Nancy Spungen’s death, for which Vicious was charged but never convicted, he was out on bail and decided to attend a Skafish show at the Hurrah nightclub in New York City.
Vicious was staring at one of Skafish’s roadies, Tara, all night. He attempted to start flirting with the woman, at which point her boyfriend, Todd Smith, asked Vicious to at least wait until the band was done playing to flirt with his girlfriend. Vicious responded to this request by smashing a beer bottle into Smith’s face. Smith was sent to the hospital as a result of the attack and Vicious ended up back in prison.
It is much harder to be sympathetic to Vicious when one realizes he was out flirting with women and attacking men while only out on bail from the accused murder of his girlfriend. Vicious was, at his core, an abused and neglected child, but his wanton disregard for others’ safety and wellbeing cannot be ignored.
15. Vicious Suffered From Hepatitis Due to Intravenous Drug Use
Sid Vicious received a reprieve from having to demonstrate his inability to play his bass guitar from a strange source: hepatitis. The Sex Pistols were recording their only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols, in 1977. Vicious would doubtlessly have struggled with the recordings due to being hopelessly unable to play but was hospitalized during the entire recording period due to hepatitis.
Vicious was a frequent intravenous drug user, which often results in complications like hepatitis and was likely the source of his illness. However, his girlfriend at the time, Nancy Spungen, was a part-time sex worker and could also have exposed Vicious to the disease. Hepatitis B is spread through sharing needles and is also a sexually transmitted infection. Hepatitis C can also be spread through sharing needles.
It is not clear what strain of Hepatitis Vicious was treated for in 1977. Both B and C can become chronic, but it is far more likely with C. Hepatitis C tends to most seriously affect those infected later in life through liver failure, but with Vicious’ premature death of a heroin overdose it is unlikely he lived long enough to experience chronic effects from either strain of the disease.
Ironically for a punk rocker who became notorious for his violent drug-fueled antics, his namesake is a docile and timid animal. Sid Vicious, whose birth name was Simon John Ritchie, found his stage name in a rather unusual way. He was visiting his friend John Lydon, who later was famed as Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of the Sex Pistols when Lydon’s hamster bit him on the finger.
Lydon’s hamster, Sid (named after Pink Floyd’s Syd Barret), bit Vicious rather nastily leading Lydon to exclaim “Sid is really vicious!” Lydon began using the moniker Sid Vicious as a nickname for Ritchie, and it stuck. At the time, Lydon and Ritchie were living with two other men also named John, which led to them being called the “Four Johns.” In that environment, any nickname, even one from a hamster, must have been better than being one of four Johns!”
Lydon later described the hamster Sid as the “softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth” which makes it a sad and ironic namesake for a punk rocker who is most famous for his violence, drug abuse and tragically young death from a heroin overdose. The animal namesake is especially dark given Vicious’ history of strangling animals in his youth.
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